Tripadvisor blocks some Russian reviews as customers use it to protest war

CEO says site is wrong place for anti-war sentiment, saying ‘they’re not going to be seen by anyone’

Lucy Thackray
Monday 07 March 2022 11:13 GMT
Tripadvisor CEO insisted readership of Kremlin reviews was ‘super tiny’
Tripadvisor CEO insisted readership of Kremlin reviews was ‘super tiny’ (Getty Images)

Tripadvisor is restricting reviews on some Russian hotels, landmarks and restaurants after it was flooded with messages protesting the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Encouraged by hacking collective Anonymous, travellers inundated the reviews site with anti-war messages, with one three-star review of Moscow’s Metropol Hotel reading, “Your president has invaded Ukraine and is waging war against her people.”

On Twitter, Anonymous advised its 7.8m followers to leave a message along the lines of: “The food was great! Unfortunately, Putin spoiled our appetites by invading Ukraine” in place of a review.

It follows Google’s decision to suspend reviews on landmarks and businesses in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, after activists started bombarding them with information about the situation in Ukraine.

Tripadvisor told The Independent it has only suspended reviews on a few listings - a move known as a “lockdown” - which had had a noticeable uptick in people using the listing to protest the invasion of Ukraine.

“Lockdowns of a business listing are a standard moderation practice in place at Tripadvisor, implemented when a specific threshold of reviews are submitted to a business that do not describe a firsthand experience,” a Tripadvisor spokesperson told The Independent.

“Lockdowns are not a representation of Tripadvisor’s political views. They are simply aimed at protecting the site and those businesses listed on our platform from non-firsthand reviews and in turn, ensuring that travellers can trust the content on our site.”

They added that the number of reviews of Russian venue had only fallen slightly in recent days, saying: “We are still allowing reviews for the vast majority of businesses in Russia.”

Tripadvisor has also created alternative Ukraine threads on its forums for people to share information about the situation in the country, rather than targeting businesses.

The brand’s CEO, Stephen Kaufer, insisted that Tripadvisor is not an appropriate or impactful place to post anti-war sentiment, suggesting that not many people read reviews of landmarks or hotels in Moscow.

“Look, I personally care a lot about how we can get the Russian people to understand what’s really going on with their country,” Mr Kaufer told The Telegraph.

“I know for a fact how many people read the latest review on the Kremlin, and it’s super tiny.

“They’re not going to be seen by anyone and have nothing to do with those places, so we feel like we have to take action and say clearly that’s not part of our guidelines.”

Mr Kaufer suggested that social media was a better place for protest messages, adding: “That’s what they’re built for, and… they’ll probably be seen more than a review on a particular place.”

However, Russia has since blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, with communications agency Roskomnadzor citing “discrimination against Russian media and information resources by Facebook” over recent years.

In an open letter, Mr Kaufer also announced a series of measures to show solidarity with Ukraine, saying that Tripadvisor’s parent company Tripadvisor Media Group has “stopped promoting travel to the impacted region” across its brands, which include Viator and Cruise Critic.

The company has automatically cancelled experience and tour bookings across Russia and Belarus (on TA and sibling tour site Viator), as well as rental bookings across those countries through TripAdvisor, as well as affiliate brands Flipkey and HolidayLettings.

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